Imagine walking into a university dining hall to find the pleasant aromas of fresh bread, rosemary, sage and citrus enticing you to enjoy a bevy of familiar favorites like pizza, burgers, cookies and doughnuts.

Now imagine if everything in that dining hall were entirely plant-based.

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Plant-based everything.
Plant-based everything!

From wood-fired pizzas and dragon fruit glazed chocolate doughnuts to baked cauliflower tots and applewood carrot dogs… if you were one of the more than 140 attendees at a summit recently held at Rutgers University, you wouldn’t have had to imagine a thing.

In partnership with the Humane Society of the United States, Rutgers co-hosted a plant-based leadership summit enjoyed by a standing-room-only audience of registered dietitians, chefs and other food and nutrition professionals representing universities, school districts, hospitals and K-12 schools from New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and beyond. After the summit, 100% of the attendees surveyed rated the day as “good” or “excellent.”

More than 140 individuals attended a plant-based leadership summit at Rutgers University.

The summit focused on practical strategies for adding more plant-based dishes to menus, the future of food and the benefits of eating more plants and less meat through the lens of human health, the environment and animal welfare. Speakers also addressed how dining operations are successfully providing a wide-range of popular plant-based options to their menus in a delicious, affordable and sustainable manner.

The Harvest Café, part of Rutgers Dining Services and housed in the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition & Health at Rutgers has quickly become one of the leading dining service operations in the country for plant-based culinary options. At the summit, its leadership team shared how they are helping transform what college students eat through continual menu enhancement, culinary trainings led by the chefs from the Humane Society of the United States, research, and participation with initiatives such as Menus of Change Research Collaborative.

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Karla Dumas, speaking with summit attendees
It was a pleasure speaking with so many chefs, nutritionists and culinary specialists at the summit.

Since the event, Rutgers Chef Ian Keith said chefs from multiple institutions have reached out to him asking for recipes, menu direction and advice on recipe concepts and design. In fact, one attendee who is a university chef shared that since the event he has chosen to follow a plant-based diet and will be incorporating more plant-based options into his dining program. He also shared his belief — echoed by many other attendees — that this is not a passing fad, but that these changes are forever.

Since 2015, the HSUS has hosted 31 similar summits reaching 1,900 attendees throughout the country. The leadership summit is just one of the resources HSUS offers in our partnership with the food service industry. Over last past four and a half years, the HSUS has trained over 9,000 foodservice professionals from schools, colleges and universities, hospitals and other institutions on plant-based culinary techniques and recipes, and we’ve worked with over 600 dining programs to implement plant-based initiatives.

As the only organization in the nation to provide plant-based institutional training, we understand the responsibility we have to lead the food industry in a healthier, more humane direction. We advocate compassionate eating – or the Three Rs: “reducing” or “replacing” consumption of animal products with plant-based foods and “refining” our diets by choosing products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards.

Our food and nutrition team partners with the world’s largest foodservice companies and institutions – from Harvard University to the U.S. military – to transform menus.

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Sweet, savory and all plant-based.

Plant-based eating benefits our health, the environment and animals, and has proven to save many dining programs money. Whether individuals choose a plant-based lifestyle full-time or part-time, it’s clear that dining programs across the country are working hard to meet this demand.

We know that change can’t happen soon enough. To learn more about HSUS plant-based culinary trainings, visit forwardfood.org.

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All photos courtesy of Sean Hennessy/The Humane Society of the United States

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